Sunday, May 18, 2008

Steve Was My Big Brother

(Josh, Rich, Steve, circa 1966)

On August 9th, 2007, my big brother took his own life. 
At his memorial, I read this to those gathered.
I don’t have words for this day. I would like to talk about Steve, just a little. He wasn’t into speeches. 
Steve was my big brother. When we were little we would ride around on our tricycles, sometimes with a yogurt perched on that little back step trikes have. We played and swam, and swam. Dad loved the pool, so we always were lucky enough to have one. Even back then, I think Steve had demons. 
Steve never felt real, like a real family member, he told me. There were tough days when being adopted, to him, meant the opposite of what adoption really is about—love. He felt fake, like an outsider, that being adopted was not out of love, but something else. And I know it was tough for him to be my BIG brother, after all, he was adopted, and I wasn’t. It caused him confusion, pain and anguish, and it made him angry. The adoption demon loomed large his whole life. 
Like all brothers, we were a bit competitive physically. As I look back, there was no real competition, he wasn’t in my league! He was in the majors; I was in some backwoods farm club or something. He was on a swim team, ran track, and as a young adult became a proficient martial artist. And I got to watch, adoringly, admiringly, my big brother. 
I remember our family ski vacations. Steve was an incredibly able and beautiful skier. He would lead me down runs that were challenging….for me. He would make sure to cut a path for me, and then wait for me to make sure I made it. If I didn’t make it, and frequently I didn’t, he would side-step up that hill for the rescue. It always comforted me that my brother was watching out for me. That was his forte…helping people, protecting his loved ones, saving people. I think his favorite job was when he was an EMT. If you needed an ambulance, you would hope for a guy like Steve to pick you up. He would be there until all the loose ends were tied up. He would exude compassion and care. He was the EMT standard that all EMT’s should aspire to. 
School was tough for Steve. His dyslexia, his attention deficit and hyperactivity made school very hard. He didn't lack intelligence—far from it. As a teacher, I now understand much better what kind of intelligence he had. He was tactile, kinesthetic. He understood things through his body. His body was his temple. And he used that imposing, gorgeous temple of a body to protect me when I was young. But, that school demon was baaad. 
Steve could build stuff. I think he could build anything. When he worked at Perceptronics with Gershon he would come home with these fantastic miniature Army tanks made of discarded (or maybe not!) computer parts. The things were amazing. He fashioned treads out of, I don’t know. There were little guns, and intricate armatures. They were so well done, I was sure they took hours and hours. I found out later that he slapped them together. He could do stuff like that. He taught me how to do tune-ups, oil changes, change brake pads, all with the patience and demeanor of the finest teacher. He was acting like the best kind of big brother. He loved me. He had NO mechanical demon. 
Steve loved animals. They loved him. The family dog was really Steve’s dog. The greatest animal story is when our hamster escaped. Steve, the young, hyperactive mechanic, said he could rescue the hamster, which was stuck in between the wall in a funky little storage area on the landing of the Studio City house, with a lift made of string, a milk carton and some hamster food. Mom, Dad and I, pessimists that we were, said it was futile. Steve, with determination, ignored us all, and rescued the hamster. We were amazed! It was amazing! It took a long time, but he stuck to it. My dad and I talked about it many, many times in later years. We were amazed that little Steve’s contraption worked, and we were ashamed at our behavior and lack of faith. Life for Steve was a struggle. 
He turned me on to Rock and roll. While I was listening to the Bee Gees and the Beatles (not really rock-n-roll, no offense), he was listening to Supertramp’s Crime of the Century and Frampton Comes Alive. It’s a far cry from the Grateful Dead, I know. He taught me to listen to the guitar, paving the way for his little Deadhead brother. 
Steve was bigger than life. He was loud; he laughed easily. He was passionate about all he did. He was loyal. With Glenda, Steve’s greatest achievement was making the 2 sweetest, brightest, most beautiful girls in the world—my nieces Sammy and Jessie. My Dad was by far the proudest grandfather in the world. Mom is still beaming! With good reason, I might add. 
Over the years, Steve and I grew apart, not surprisingly. We were very different people. He never really felt comfortable at family gatherings, while I get a little too comfortable. 2 brothers could not have been more different from each other. But we had a bond that was unbreakable. We protected each other. We had our strengths, and our weaknesses, and we each knew each other’s. We saw each other a couple times a year when I would come down to LA. My little Zeke was very impressed by this large, tattooed, smiley faced uncle who could throw him a mile in the pool. They didn’t get to see enough of each other. Zeke is a proud nephew. His memories of his Uncle are all good ones. 
Steve made an impression everywhere he went, sometimes a good impression, sometimes not so good, but he was always impressive. Steve’s demons, his chemistry, took him in the end. No amount of love, or kindness, or care, or proximity could have stopped it. He was a powerful force. He just didn’t have the power to stop his sadness, and confusion, and anger, and live through it. It is just so sad. 
A few important people couldn’t be here. All the Weltman’s knew and loved Steve, but couldn’t be here. They keep sending emails from overseas reminding me of good times we had together. Josh, Steve and I grew up together. We had many great times as kids. Josh is my rock. 
A friend of mine told me many years ago, to always kiss goodbye, and say “I love you” when you leave—even if you are just going to the store. “I love you” should always be the last words you say to someone. 
With my big brother finally at peace, I just want to say to him, one last time, Goodbye. I love you. 
And to all of you, I love you.